Another reason why Venezuela’s opposition can win Sunday’s presidential poll: the country’s exceptional crime rate.
Venezuela is only of only five countries with rates averaging more than 40 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants between 2005 and 2010, and the others (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Jamaica) are considerably smaller and poorer, writes Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College:
When compared to countries in its income category, Venezuela is a salient outlier as well: its distance from other countries around its income category is large. No other country near Venezuela’s income category has higher homicide rates. The worst part is that the crime in Venezuela is probably higher than the UN data reports. Independent observers in Venezuela place the rate for 2012 at 70 per 100,000.
“Furthermore, Venezuela’s rates are increasing, whereas most countries with similar income levels as Venezuela have seen stable (e.g., Costa Rica) or declining (e.g., Colombia) homicide rates since the early 2000s,” notes Corrales, co-author (with Carlos Romero) of U.S.-Venezuela Relations: Coping with Midlevel Security Threats:
The government is stuck in an ideological trap that prevents it from responding appropriately to crime. This ideological trap has two components.
The first is the government’s belief in the idea that that crime is the result of capitalism, and especially poverty. Because the government likes to claim that capitalism, and especially poverty, are in retreat in Venezuela, it thus cannot accept openly that the crime wave is potent and growing. Hence, the government’s efforts to combat crime have all been low energy.
The second ideological problem is the government’s strong belief in the indispensability and unassailability of the military. The belief in the indispensability of the military means that the government’s only response to crime consists of deploying the coercive side of the state, mostly the national guard, instead of experimenting with a variety of supplementary tools, such as working with neighbors, revamping the court system, collaborating with the private sector, etc.
And the belief in the unassailability of the military means that the government does very little to combat crime within the national guard itself. Living under almost perfect impunity, the national guard has become the country’s strongest accomplice to crime. Rather than a tool to combat crime, the national guard has become, literally, a partner in crime.
“In Mexico and Central America, a vital driver of high homicide rates is the state’s declared war on the drug trade and drug lords. In Venezuela, the primary cause is not so much the state’s war on crime, but rather the state’s insufficient response to crime,” he concludes.
“The lesson from Venezuela is that it is hopeless to fight crime across society if authorities are reluctant to fight crime within the state. Impunity within the state—in Latin America especially—seems deadly.”